We went to the Hope Project today, a resource centre for refugees, based near Kara Tepe, one of the refugee camps on the island, a couple of miles out from Mytilini. Since this also near the other projects I might be working at, and I need to know how to get there under my own steam, it also acted as a dummy run for the journey. Luckily, it turned out to be very easy.
We were acting on a recommendation from one of the students at Gekko, and did not really know what to expect. It turned out to be a set of three warehouses on a small industrial park, originally established by a man called Eric Kempson, an Englishman who has been involved with the refugee crisis from the very beginning, when hundreds, and then thousands of refugees turned up on the coast near his house on the north of the island. He showed us round the various warehouses: first an art studio where some 20 or so refugees were all working on their own paintings, sketches, whatever. The walls were covered with art created by them and their predecessors: a vast array, all with different styles, sizes, forms, subject matter, and of a remarkable quality, worthy of gracing any professional gallery. He showed us one piece, a large, collaborative piece, showing a modern Moses (in reality Eric’s wife) parting the waves, and allowing through a crowd of people. This had already attracted great interest on Facebook, and is to be auctioned by Christies to raise money for the project.
Eric is an artist himself, but it was clear that he was equally proud of the other facilities on the site. The largest was a well-stocked resource centre, with equipment and sanitary goods available to those in need, but there was also a kitchen, a bakery, a woodwork shop, a sewing centre, and, about to open within weeks, a hairdressing and craft centre. Awe-inspiring, and just plain inspiring.
On our return, we took pictures of some of the street art throughout Mytilini. There is a lot there, some showing excellent technical expertise, and much witty and clever. Far more ubiquitous, however, with examples covering just about every plain wall, shop shutter, street furniture, is street art’s ugly bastard cousin: graffiti. No wit here, but the sort of nasty, disfiguring vandalism produced by any idiot with a spray-can. It ranges from the political – smash Nazis – to the childishly obscene – “Boobs” is a particular favourite, but mostly it is badly scrawled Greek phrases.
It is the complete antithesis to the art we had seen in the morning. In the struggle between the beautiful and the ugly, the talented and the talentless, the inspiring and the depressing, one just has to believe in hope.